TRAVEL: CATSKILLS | 7 LESSONS FROM ECO PRACTICUM

 

Last September, we took a road trip to the Catskill Mountains to attend Everything But the Kitchen, an immersive four-day experience centered around ecological justice, good (very good) food, and conversation with inspiring people from around the United States. It was something else. We left with a deep sense of community and renewed direction at a time when we really needed it. Eco Practicum (creators and co-hosts) are gearing up for their Spring and Summer programs in NYC + the Catskills. Good Food Jobs (the other co-hosts) are offering partial and full scholarships. (We received scholarships and are still incredibly grateful.)

You can apply here, and we really hope you do. If you need further convincing, we've compiled our list of lessons gleaned as students in the program.


1. There are people who have done what you dream of, and they will help you.
. . . If only we reach out. Skill sets mean little if we fail to share them. Was it intimidating to walk onto the 2-acre property of Root N Roost Farm, with its solar-heated greenhouses, Hügelkultur dams, menagerie of biodynamic livestock and an objectively beautiful outhouse? Yes. But when the farmer couple excitedly showed us around and described their gradual process, we called to mind that first sentence. 


2. Composting toilets are the way of the future (and, you know, the past).
. . . And we want one. Between all the talk of closing the loop with animal and human waste, and the fresh smell of cedar upon walking into that objectively beautiful outhouse (because one approach to compost toilet-ing is to sprinkle wood shavings before and after you go), there wasn't much need for convincing.
 

3. The Internet is not a cold, faceless place.
. . . Especially when we find an online community we connect with. For us, it was Good Food Jobs. Taylor + Dorothy (real humans!) have become very good friends, and born through our desire to meet them in New York are friendships we now hold around the country. Find your people and seek them out for a (likely) inspiring, affirming, beautiful relationship.
 

4. Ecological Justice is something we all ought to know more about.
. . . And the teachers exist. There are internet resources out there, yes; but the deep, messy, critical and at-times confusing tenets of eco justice are best learned from those immersed in it. Cue Eugenia Manwelyan and Tal Beery, the duo that started a School for Ecological Justice. Despite our entire trip being centered around engaging in ecological justice practices, Eugenia answered so many questions for us, all while cross-legged in the grass.
 

5. Growing hops is easy. 
. . . As long as you’re only growing for yourself and a few home brewing pals. When we stumbled, with some amazement, upon a fragrant patch of trellised Cascade hops at Root N Roost, it led us into a discussion with farmer Sean that reinforced the idea that one of our dream projects (growing hops at home) was not out of reach.


6. We need to start looking at trash differently.
. . . Because it might be exactly what you need for that next project. At each of the three farms we visited—Root N Roost, Channery Hill, and Apple Pond—recycling and upcycling were very much the way of life. Not to be hip (there is nothing hip about a junk pile); no, it was to be efficient, low-input, and aware of what exists in the waste stream. We saw a man who was trellising two-year-old tomato plants with old pulleys in his greenhouse — which was constructed entirely from discarded plastics & metals. 
 

7. There's a book for that.
. . . And your library can get it for you. As we exchanged ideas on approaches to sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and simple living, most conversations resolved along the lines of: "Have you read Blank by So-and-So? You should." Beyond discovering unread writings of Wendell Berry in the Eco Practicum Library (made up of books brought along by each one of us), we came away with a bevy of resources on subjects ranging from beekeeping to business models to cheese appreciation. 


—M&S